Construction employment climbed by 60,000 jobs between January and February as hourly pay rose at the steepest pace in nearly 40 years, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of America of government data released March 4. Association leaders urged officials in Washington to boost support for career training and education to enable more workers to pursue high-paying construction careers.
“All segments of construction added workers in February,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “However, filling positions remains a struggle, as pay is rising even faster in other sectors.”
Average hourly earnings for “production and nonsupervisory employees”—largely, hourly craft workers, in the case of construction—increased 6.0 percent from February 2021 to last month. That was the steepest 12-month increase since December 1982, Simonson noted.
The industry average of $31.62 per hour for such workers exceeded the private sector average by 17 percent, the economist pointed out. Nevertheless, the average for the entire private sector climbed even more in February—6.7 percent year-over-year—and the competition for workers has intensified as other industries offer working conditions that are not possible in construction, such as flexible hours or work from home.
Employment rose at all types of construction firms in February. Nonresidential construction firms added 29,400 employees. That included 19,900 more employees among specialty trade contractors, 7,300 at heavy and civil engineering construction firms, and 2,200 working for general building contractors. Employment in residential construction rose by 31,000 workers, including 24,300 at specialty trade contractors and 6,700 employed by homebuilders and multifamily general contractors.
The number of unemployed jobseekers with construction experience shrank by 26 percent over the past year, from February 2021 to 677,000 in February 2022. Simonson said the decline is further evidence that the industry will have a hard time filling positions with experienced workers.
Association officials said it is clear the industry will need to hire hundreds of thousands of additional workers in each of the next several years to complete projects that will be funded by the recently enacted Bipartisan Infrastructure law, as well as to satisfy the continuing demand for homebuilding and private nonresidential structures. Officials urged Congress and the Biden administration to increase funding for career and technical education and to support a wider range of apprenticeship and training opportunities.
“Construction firms are doing all they can to add employees and pay them well,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “But there are not likely to be enough workers to meet demand unless officials in Washington act now to prepare more jobseekers for these opportunities.”